Thanks for reminding us what we’re up against and how far we have to go.
In the days since reading Holly Finn’s cynical and scathing assessment of the meetings and conventions industry in The Wall Street Journal, my mood has changed from outrage to anger to frustration to hunger (it was dinner time) to concern and then to excitement and exhilaration. Ms. Finn basically tore apart our industry, painting us as a bunch of Good Time Charlies who like to spend lavishly, party endlessly, and think, learn and network less than occasionally.
But it was a wake-up call to action and to opportunity, for which I am grateful. Let me explain.
What Ms. Finn’s misinformed diatribe reminded me was that we are most effective only at talking among ourselves. Years ago, I used to attend regularly the Travel Industry Unity Dinner, an annual black-tie Pat on the Back to remind us how important we are. And we are important, even by today’s standards: the meetings industry generates 1.7 million U.S. jobs, $263 billion in direct spending, and makes a $106 billion contribution to the GDP, according to landmark research conducted two years ago by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Yet we are not so effective communicating our message to Ms. Finn’s world – the one outside the meetings industry, including the author herself. So disadvantaged are we that The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t even acknowledge or publish the intelligent and eloquent response to Ms. Finn crafted by Convention Industry Council CEO Karen Kotowski. Probably would have spoiled their fun -- facts tend to have that effect. Regardless, the CIC’s actions speak louder than any words – they are the overseers of the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) program, helping to send 14,000 highly qualified “ambassadors” into the field elevating the status of our profession, serving as liaisons with executives, and ensuring outcomes and ROI for stakeholders.
Roger Rickard and Roger Dow are two major league advocates who come to mind for pounding the DC pavement and industry circuit tirelessly declaring meetings as an industry onto itself and as essential business and marketing tools when developed and implemented properly. To the meetings delegates in Ms. Finn’s “party-now” universe, if you or your approving managers can’t validate the relevance, expense and potential return of going to a meeting, do us a favor and don’t go. Similarly, if organizations can’t validate the relevance, expense and potential return of holding a conference in the first place, then for goodness sake don’t hold it!
Ms. Finn’s article is an unscheduled but important wake-up call reminding us that we need to work harder to get people to understand the value of what we do. I, for one, plan to support the efforts of our industry leaders by keeping the conversation going on social media and joining “extended” industry groups both live and online (marketing executives, C-suite, procurement managers) to initiate dialogue beyond our traditional borders. As VP of Education for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter, I will do all I can to establish forums that help meetings professionals understand how to be heard in executive offices, thus taking their perceived and real value beyond logistics and into the realm of strategy and goals.
Has progress already been made? Sure. A General Services Administration scandal that uncovered excessive spending of taxpayer dollars at a meeting is only two years in the past. Yet, as Ms. Finn points out, there were 750 government-held conferences this year. What she doesn’t point out is that maybe, just maybe, the business reasons for those meetings outweighed any concern over the perceptions they would arouse – so much so that, even after the GSA mess, those groups held their events anyway knowing the scrutiny they would face.
We have an enormous task at hand but also an enormous opportunity. We need the trade press to sound the trumpets. We need to penetrate the general business media. We must continue the dialogue, spread the word, extend our professional comfort zones, and implore our peers to take part. Then and only then will we be able to raise the bar of awareness, silence the critics, and educate important voices like Holly Finn. Being able some day to refer to her as an advocate for our business would be a sweet victory indeed.